How to Tell if You're a Workaholic

Everyone loves a hard worker.

In fact, pulling long hours on the job and earning big is considered by many to be the modern mark of success. Being labelled a workaholic is, as often as not, seen as a badge of honour.

But for some, the obsessive need to work comes at the expense of everything else. Health, relationships and even work quality can suffer. A compulsion to work has been leading people to therapists and self-help groups for years. It can even be deadly. Earlier this month, a Japanese government study found one fifth of the Japanese workforce is at risk of death from overwork.

Overwork isn’t just a problem in Japan. Workaholics Anonymous, a 12-step program which models itself on Alcoholics Anonymous, held its first international conference in the UK in June, with attendees hailing from across the globe.

There has been little research into why workaholism develops. But that’s changing – in recent years, the phenomenon has begun to get more attention and is being treated as more than just a buzzword.

Its impact is being linked to health, workplace and mental issues, and researchers are taking note. A recent meta-analysis by the University of Georgia showed, among other things, that workaholics are less productive than colleagues with a healthier attitude and approach to work. Another large-scale study, published in May by the University of Bergen in Norway, linked workaholic tendencies to other psychiatric issues, like obsessive compulsive disorder, anxiety and depression.

But workaholics are not necessarily producing the best work or are any more engaged at the office than their colleagues, the University of Georgia meta-analysis found. 

Malissa A Clark, an assistant professor of industrial and organisational psychology at the University of Georgia, led the study. She says workaholics reported greater job stress, lower job satisfaction, lower life satisfaction and more burnout.

They also reported greater work-life conflict, lower physical and mental health and detrimental outcomes for family, such as marital problems. “There's not a lot of positive outcomes,” she adds, despite the concept of workaholism often being linked with traits like being driven, competitive, ambitious and productive.

Think you might have a problem? There are a couple of self-assessments you can take. Norwegian researchers have created the Bergen Work Addiction Scale, where you can gauge your behavior, feelings and attitude towards work. Workaholics Anonymous also has an online questionnaire that can help you determine if you might need to seek help.

But work, like food, is not something you can just give up cold turkey. So how can you control your impulse to work incessantly?  “It's having a plan and following a plan, versus, compulsively diving in to whatever pops up,” says one former workaholic. That means scheduling work hours, focusing on one thing at a time, and if something unexpected arises, rather than chaotically trying to cram everything in and multi-tasking, going back to your list and reprioritising.

Other treatment options include finding a therapist who is versed in this area or attending outpatient or inpatient workshops and programs. But a big factor in the lack of available treatment, says Clark, is lack of research. “There's not a lot of research on how it develops and there's almost no research on the relationship between workaholism and clinical disorders.” The Norwegian study is one of the first.

More research is needed, she says, “so it becomes more mainstream rather than this fringe topic buzzword that people throw out there. It does have legitimate detrimental outcomes to people's lives and people's well-being.”

Edited from BBC Capital 


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